When I first wrote about the Wisdom of the Language almost a decade ago, I realized that many people would probably think the idea was odd, and perhaps even revolutionary. I think perhaps I was also too much involved with rather “technical” details — and therefore many people didn’t seem to “get it” right off the bat. It’s really a very simple idea: A site named “X” is about “X”.
I named the concept the Wisdom of the Language in order to contrast it with the Wisdom of the Crowds, a book that was very popular at the time (and which is sort of the basis for algorithmic search methods like those employed by Google). As I wrote back then, crowds are a sign of significance (and perhaps also something like credibility), but they are not a measure of relevance.
Although this technology is quite simple and straightforward, language is also a very complex phenomenon. People who are not well-versed in how language works may not see the forest for the trees — and therefore they may easily get lost. This is especially the case for people who do not have much experience in comparing and evaluating a plethora of media and information sources. Many people have rather limited media literacy skills, and really do need the guidance of a trained information specialist (which had for over a century been the role of professional librarians).
Starting about a decade ago, people began to think they no longer needed trained professionals to help and guide them. Now they felt ready, willing and able to discover facts by themselves — or rather with the help of an algorithm that would spit out objective “results”. Some people still to this day think the results this program returns are objective facts. They naively believe Google much like earlier generations blindly followed a Pope or presented their questions to some oracle or other magical power. They still do not realize that the primary purpose of Google is for the company to maximize its profits.
Now as most people use Google to type in the name of the website they want to visit (for example: Amazon), there is a common and also a reasonable misconception that the name of a site can be used as a way to “optimize” it for search engines (such that when someone types in “hotels” or “weather”, the top results in a search engine might very well be a site like hotels.com or weather.com).
While that may be true, that is actually not the main reason why the Wisdom of the Language works better than the Wisdom of the Crowds. Using the Wisdom of the Language, a brand-name website like Google will actually ultimately become superfluous. As people become aware of the fact that weather.com has reliable information about weather, and that hotels.com has reliable information about hotels, they will no longer need to search for “weather” or “hotels” at the Google website. Instead, they can skip that detour and go directly to the information source.
Most people still do not have the media literacy skills to be able to reliably evaluate the quality of information different websites provide — but it is getting better, slowly but surely (and many Wisdom of the Language websites are helping to pave the way).
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